With the air thick with jasmine I was transported into the magical world of Bruce Munro's LIGHT at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Art Museum in Nashville on a beautiful summer's eve. It can be hard to describe in words the gifts that Munro bestows on the landscape as his work escapes description in either written or photographic form, it is something to be experienced. I understand the dangerous territory of hyperbole that I enter with such a statement, however this is the effect the work had on me, and to be so moved is rare.
What makes this experience unique is to see any work of art so subtly and boldly re-make a landscape as Munro has done here. There are pieces that I find more or less successful, however in the aggregate it is a monumental work that will have an everlasting impact on my imagination. Once the installation has been removed its memory will linger for each and every visitor.
The heart of the exhibit is the "Field of Light" in part because of its sheer scale tumbling out from the hillside of the Mansion onto the fields below -- and in part because of its mesmerizing quality, as the sea of twinkling lights sway and the colors change and move over the landscape. The monolithic "Water Towers" have a similar syncopated movement of color throughout their 10,000 water bottles, however while the "Field of Light" sits lightly on the landscape, these pieces have a boulder like quality, something akin to Stonehenge. One of the most enchanting moments are "Fagin's Urchins" (the name hardly does it justice). This piece is so perfectly placed that it appears to have always been there, at once monumental and delicate. In the Cheekwood Mansion Art Museum on site there are yet more pieces, the "Light Shower" with its 1,400 lights is compressed into a room of great verticality, thereby amplifying its effect. And one of my favorite moments takes place in the Mansion's staircase with the "Bell Chandelier" dramatically and forcefully occupying and charging the space.
While statistics cannot do the artist's work justice, here are a few -- Munro has now completed three large scale installations in the United States, the third has just opened in Ohio, each one is site specific with Cheekwood's being the most expansive. In 2012 in the Longwood Gardens, in Pennsylvania, over 23 acres there were eight large-scale outdoor installations, with two installations within the 4-acre Grand Conservatory and a collection of illuminated sculptures in the Music Room. At Cheekwood, opening in May 2013 and closing in November 2013, on a 55-acre site there are ten large-scale outdoor and indoor lighting installations, and a series of illuminated sculptures in the Mansion. And opening last month at the Franklin in Ohio with its buildings and courtyards covering about 1 1/2 acres, the Franklin Park Conservatory is a more compact installation with 83,000 square feet Conservatory's of indoor environments.
While I have taken photos and video over several visits, and I have perused the press shots and video, a work of this scale cannot be understood or appreciated without being there in person. You must stand in this transformed landscape to experience the magic, there is no shortcut. The great news is that this fall you have two opportunities to be immersed in Munro's work, don't walk... hop on a plane and run!
photos courtesy of dale cohen designstudio
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